Busy Summer 2020 for the World of ESG Players – Rating Agencies, Information Providers, UNGC & the SDGs…and More

August 27 2020

by Hank Boerner – Chair & Chief Strategist – G&A Institute

It’s been a very busy summer for organizations managing corporate reporting frameworks and standards, for ESG rating agencies, and for multilateral agencies focused on corporate sustainability and responsibility.

If you are a corporate manager — or a sustainable investment professional — do tune in to some of the changes that will affect your work in some ways. Here’s a quick summary:

ISS/Institutional Shareholder Services
For four decades, ISS has been the go-to source on governance issues for proxy voting and corporate engagement guidance for major fiduciaries (pension funds are an example).

Two years ago, “E” and “S” ratings were added for investor-clients.

Now, ISS ESG (ISS’s responsible investing unit) is providing “best-in-class fund ratings” that assess the ESG performance of 20,000 firms. Funds will be rated 1-to-5 (bottom is 1) – this to be a broad utility resource for investment professionals. And for corporate managers – ISS ESG scores along with those of other ESG ratings agencies are a factor in whether your company is included in indexes, benchmarks, maybe ETFs and mutual funds that are being rated.

Bloomberg LP
It’s launching E, S & G scores for thousands of firms (highlighting environmental and societal risks that are material to a sector).

First sector up is Oil & Gas, with 252 firms rated. Also, there are new Board Composition scores, with Bloomberg assessing how well a board is positioned to respond to certain G issues. (Note that 4,300 companies are being rated – probably including yours if you are a publicly-traded entity.)

And in other news:

UN Global Compact and the SDGs
The UNGC observes its 20th anniversary and in its latest survey of companies, the organization asked about the SDGs and corporate perspectives of the 17 goals and 169 targets. The findings are in the blog post for you.

MSCI
This major ESG ratings agency expanded its model for evaluating company-level alignment to the Sustainable Development Goals. New tools will help capital markets players to enhance or develop ESG-themed investment services and products.

Global Reporting Initiative
The GRI continues to align its Universal Standards with other reporting frameworks or standards so that a GRI report becomes a more meaningful and holistic presentation of a company’s ESG profile.

GRI Standards were updated and planned revisions include moving Human Rights reporting closer to the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights and other inter-governmental instruments.

Climate Disclosure Standards Board
The CDSB Framework for climate-related disclosure is now available for corporate reporters to build “material, climate-related information” in mainstream documents (like the 10-k). This is similar to what the TCFD is recommending for corporate disclosure.

This is a small part of what has been going on this summer. We have the two top stories about ISS and Bloomberg and a whole lot more for you in the G&A Sustainability Update blog.

For your end-of-summer/get-ready-for-a-busy-fall schedule!

Top Stories

The G&A Blog with many more organizations and their actions here.

Moving The World Forward Toward a More Sustainable Future: The Member Nations of the United Nations, Working Collaboratively For Progress in the 21st Century

by Hank Boerner – Chair & Chief Strategist – G&A Institute

“The United Nations” began as a World War II-era strategy as President Franklin D. Roosevelt talked about the allies of the United States of America partnering in the fight to save democracy and collectively battling the regimes of fascist dictators in Europe and Asia.

On January 1, 1942, 26 nations “united” in Washington DC to coordinate the battle with the “Axis” powers.  (“Axis” – the axis line, said President Roosevelt, ran from Berlin (Germany) through Rome (Italy) and to Tokyo (Japan) – the clear linkage in his mind of the fascist leadership.)

In February 1942 the president addressed the nation in his 20th “fireside chat” (broadcasting nationwide on “the radio”) to talk about the progress of the war.

The U.S. was coming from far behind in terms of preparedness for a global battle, and so an important part of the progress in this, the start of the first year of U.S. involvement in the global conflict, President Roosevelt explained to the nation of 125 million souls:

“The United Nations constitutes an association of independent peoples of equal dignity and equal importance. The United Nations are dedicated to a common cause. We share equally and with equal zeal the anguish and the awful sacrifices of war. In the partnership of our common enterprise, we must share in a unified plan in which all of us must play our several parts, each of us being equally indispensable and dependent one on the other.

“We have unified command and cooperation and comradeship. We of the United Nations are agreed on certain broad principles in the kind of peace we seek. The Atlantic Charter applies not only to the parts of the world that border the Atlantic [Ocean)] but to the whole world; disarmament of aggressors, self-determination of nations and peoples, and the four freedoms – freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom from want, and freedom from fear.”

The leader of the free world of that era envisioned an global organization that could bring about a new world ordering, to assure greater peace and prosperity to many peoples of the world.  President Franklin Roosevelt passed away in April 1945; soon the global conflict ended; and then what he long envisioned became the possible:

On October 24, 1945, 50 nations gathered in San Francisco to sign on to the “United Nations Conference on International Organizations” – and the UN as we know it today was launched.  (We celebrate UN Day on 24 October in commemoration of that historic event.)

Today the UN has 193 members – sovereign states that have equal representation in the UN General Assembly. The UN is the world’s largest intergovernmental organization – a forum for governments, not a world government.  And within the organization are important initiatives that have been shaping corporate responsibility, corporate citizenship, sustainability, and for capital markets, as well as for sustainable investing.  These are agencies, programs, institutes, global collaborations, and other entities.

You know some of them as the UN Principles for Responsible Investing (PRI); the UN Global Compact (UNGC); the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs); the work of the UN Environmental Programme (UNEP).

Today we are hearing quite a bit in the corporate sector and in the capital markets about the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (adopted 1948); the UN has been the driving force behind 80-plus “human rights laws”.  Consider:  the declaration has been translated into 380 languages to date, says the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights..

We are sharing with you three recent highlights from the UN universe.   First, an update from the UNGC CEO Lisa Kingo, stressing that now is the time for society to invest in the 1.5C future…”there never has been a time”, she points out, “like today for coming together and jumpstarting a worldwide transformation towards a more inclusive and sustainable net-zero economy.”

Also from the UNGC, news of the launch of the Ocean Stewardship 2030 Report – to be a roadmap for how ocean-related industries and policymakers can jointly secure a healthy and productive ocean by 2030.

We are now in the Decade of Action on the Global Goals (the SDGs). The UNGC is an initiative of the UN Secretary General, a call to companies everywhere to align their operations and strategies with 10 universal principles focused on human rights, labor, environment and anti-corruption.

The Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) is today an independent global foundation that was birthed by the United Nations, building on the principles advanced for corporate responsibility by the NGO Ceres (based in Boston). An organization known for a philosophy of “constant improvement”, GRI recently organized an Agriculture and Fishing Project Working Group that will lead the work to create a new sustainability standard for ag & fishing.

This is part of the work of GRI’s New Sector Program – a multi-stakeholder group will move forward the initiative to help companies with ag and fishing in their value chains promote transparency and accountability, and better understand their role in sustainable development.

It’s almost 80 years now since President Franklin Delano Roosevelt – one of the most progressive leaders in U.S. history – conceived of the “united nations”, as a necessity to bring together the resources of other nations to fight a war on all of the continents, whose outcome was then uncertain.  And then to assure the peace and work to end wars, or at least settle disputes peacefully.

In November 2010 Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon noted:  “Sadly, FDR never saw the fruits of his efforts.  He died weeks before the founding conference. Yet his vision lives on in the UN Charter’s collective commitment to peace and security, economic and social welfare, tolerance and fundamental human rights.  Franklin Roosevelt’s Four Freedoms. This legacy of multilateral cooperation guides us today…”

Well said!

Top Stories

OOPS
In the June 8th issue of our newsletter (Highlights), with headline “Will We Ever See SEC Rules/Guidance for Corporate ESG Disclosure and Reporting?  The Question Hangs in the Wind..”  We incorrectly identified the corporate reporting regulations being reviewed by the Securities & Exchange Commission – should have said “Reg S-K” (not Reg F-D).  Sorry for the any confusion caused.  A more complete commentary on all of this is here on our blog.

The Young People Move to the Streets to Protest Slow or Lack of Action on Climate Change Challenges…

by Hank Boerner – Chair & Chief Strategist, G&A Institute

When our young people take to the streets in significant number, there is usually a revolution of some type in store, history tells us.  Revolutions belong to the young, we can say with some certainty if history is our guide. 

Think: Young “Minutemen” in the American Revolution, youngsters on the barricades in the French Revolution, counter-sitters and marchers in the Civil Rights protests in the American South. 

Dramatic change followed these protests. And now, we watch the young men and women in the streets of Hong Kong.

So what to make now of at least four million young men and women flooding into the streets and plazas of large cities and local communities around the world to “protest” their views of “inaction on climate change challenges” by those adults in charge (government and business, especially).

In New York City, Rome, Amsterdam, Tel Aviv, Madrid & Barcelona, Montreal, Berlin, Vienna, and many other of the world’s cities, on September 20th hundreds of thousands of young people rallied in protest and called on leaders to protect our planet. 

There were marches, music, signs of all sorts, speeches, and other public expressions intended to draw attention to the dangers posed by climate change.

A real crisis in our time and a dangerous threat to the young men and women and their younger peers in the decades ahead!

As symbol of the moment, climate activist Greta Thunberg (at age 16) boldly sailed over the seas from her home in Sweden (rather than take a jet airplane) to get to New York City for the celebration of Climate Week and the gathering of leaders at the United Nations General Assembly).

In interviews she commented that she does not understand why world leaders — including the President of the United States — would mock children and teenagers for acting on science that advances evidence that climate change is real – and dangerous for humanity and our planet.

But business is responding – and investors and the public sector, too. 

In one of the focus features we bring you this week, in the Harvard Business Review author Andrew Winston tells us what 1,000 CEOs really think about climate change and inequality. (We know Winston from his best-seller, “Green to Gold”.) 

He reminds us that nearly 200 CEOs working through the Business Roundtable (BRT) declared that business is no longer just about maximizing shareholder profit.

Many more hundreds of CEOs are in agreement and many are focused on climate change.  Are we moving fast enough? 

A report from UN Global Compact and Accenture (“The Decade to Deliver: A Call to Business Action”) presents the views of more than 1,000 global executives on their views of sustainability.

All of the large-cap company CEOs interviewed believe that sustainability issues are important to the future success of their enterprises.  The biggest challenge is climate change. 

This week our Top Stories (plural) are presented as snapshots of where we are as consumers, investors, government leaders and yes, business leaders, focus on sustainability and especially climate change matters.

An appropriate footnote:  in rural Southwest Montana, a participant in the local rally by mostly young people had this to say in a letter to the editor of the Bozeman Daily Chronicle in response to criticism of the young peoples’ rallies:  

“Climate change is not a political issue. It is a life or death issue. Our children are asking in what way school matters when our future is disintegrating before our eyes. 

“Children have as much right and reason to march anyone.  They march because they can still see possibility, opportunity and reasons to fight four just futures. 

“Next time, maybe you should join us to understand what our kids are marching for.”

Our offerings for you this week:

After strikes, youth climate activists keep pressure on leaders
Source: Reuters 

What 1,000 CEOs Really Think About Climate Change and Inequality
Source: Harvard Business Review

Business leaders join the UN Global Compact Leaders Week to address climate crisis and advance the SDGs
Source: UN Global Contract

Banks worth $47 trillion adopt new UN-backed climate, sustainability principles
Source: UN News 

Markets face major risks over lax climate forecasts, top investors warn
Source: Reuters 

The second-largest gift to a US university was pledged to Caltech. It’s being used for climate research
Source: CNN 

Climate Activism Requires More Than Just Sustainability Statements From Brands
Source: Ad Week 

Most of world’s biggest firms ‘unlikely’ to meet Paris climate targets
Source: The Guardian 

Lead on global climate change and sustainability
Source: St. Peter Herald 

Editorial: Climate Week 2019
Source: Advanced Science News 

Climate crisis seen as ‘most important issue’ by public, poll shows
Source: The Guardian 

UN Global Compact Launches Stock Index – And it Outperforms the Market!

by Hank Boerner – Chairman, G&A Institute

The number of Sustainability Indexes available to investors continues to grow — demonstrating the growing interest in Sustainability by investors.  Another major index was announced yesterday under the UN Global Compact brand.  With the recent announcement of the Thomson Reuters Corporate Responsibility Indexes in April, we see this space really heating up.

The “Global Compact 100” stock index was launched by the UN Global Compact (UNGC) yesterday.  The index is composed of equities  that are committed to the UN’s 10 principles.  The index is also known as the “GC 100” and was launched in collaboration with the ESG research firm Sustainalytics.  The companies selected adhere to the Global Compact’s 10 principles and also show commitment by “executive leadership and consistent profitability”.

On top of the companies commitment to Sustainability, UNGC says the index has outperformed the FTSE All World Index for 2 years straight, with a 26.4% gain vs a 22.1% (FTSE All World Index) gain in the past 1 year, and a 19.0% gain vs a 17.7%  gain in the last 2 years.  In the past 3 years the index has matched the FTSE All World return at 12% – this illustrates once again the claim that their is no cost to investing in Sustainable companies, and in many cases there is an advantage in the marketplace leading to out-performance of the market.

A proprietary methodology is used that investigates a range of data points devised from the Global Compact’s ten principles in the areas of human rights, labor standards, environmental stewardship, and anti-corruption. Only the Global Compact signatories that are currently covered in Sustainalytics research universe – approximately 722 companies in total were used in creating the index. (The UNGC has just about 8,000 corporate signatories, of which approximately 1,000 are publicly traded companies.)

Here is some info on the Eligibility for the Index and the Constituent Selection Process take n from the UNGC:

Eligibility for the Index:
Companies are eligible for the GC 100 if they or their parent company have been Global Compact signatories for a minimum of one year, are publicly listed, and fall within the research universe of Sustainalytics, which provided the research for the index. As well, they must pass a financial screen that requires positive pre-tax earning on average for the 3 years preceding the index annual review. In the case that a company is already a constituent of the index, it will only be removed if there are two consecutive years of negative 3-year average earnings figures.

Constituent Selection Process:
The constituents of the GC 100 are reviewed on an annual basis in September.

Constituents are chosen for the Index with the dual goal of having a sector representation (free-float market cap weights) within a range of the key, well-known global indexes; and to choose companies that have strong practices and performance in adhering to the principles of the UN Global Compact around management of human rights, labour rights, the environment and anti-corruption. Among the indicators used in the selection of the constituents were the company’s level of reporting in relations to the Global Compact’s required annual Communication on Progress and whether or not the company’s chief executive submitted its required annual letter of support for the UN Global Compact and its principles.

As part of the index annual review, there may be changes in the constituents to better align the sector representation of the GC 100 with global indexes or to replace some constituents due to changes in company practices or performance with respect to implementation of the Global Compact principles.

 Stay tuned to SRI Equity Indexes for investors — this is a growth industry now.

Read the full announcement on Accountability Central here..